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Reading Task 2
Chess is a Girl’s Game
Laszlo Polgar is a Hungarian man with two notable passions. He loves chess. He not only likes to play, he also is a collector with a huge personal library of old chess magazines, books, puzzles, and game boards. Polgar’s other passion is education. He wrote a thesis describing the best pedagogy to teach students chess. He has also written chess theory and puzzle books.
Polgar married a woman who shared his interests, and they had three daughters: Susan, Sophia, and Judit. From an early age – as young as four – Susan became interested in her father’s game, chess. In any other family, she might have been discouraged from pursuing competitive chess.
After all, of the thousand top-ranked chess players in the world, only 11 are women.
But Laszlo Polgar believed that “geniuses are made, not born.” He encouraged all three of his daughters to pursue chess, and the results were astonishing. At one point all three sisters were ranked in the top twenty of all players in the world, including men and women.
The outstanding results began early for the Polgar sisters. Six months after Susan first learned the rules of chess, she went into a local men’s chess club and beat everyone. When Susan was 21 years old, she became the first woman to earn the highly coveted title of Grandmaster, which is the top level in chess. If that wasn’t amazing enough, Judit earned the same title the same year as her sister, but she was only fifteen. Bobby Fischer, who is sometimes considered the greatest player ever, earned the title of Grandmaster at a slightly older age than Judit did.
When the sisters were 19, 14 and 12, they were the representatives sent by Hungary to the Women’s Chess Olympiad, a competition of the best women players in the world. They beat the best teams in the world, which Hungary had never done before, and brought home the gold for their country.
The success of the sisters brings up some interesting questions. After all, many people who pay attention to chess assume that it is a skill that men simply have, and women do not. How else can we explain the fact that only 11 of the top 1,000 players in the world are women?
It turns out that the explanation may be environmental, rather than biological. In other words, the real reason why women haven’t succeeded at chess may be due to not having the opportunity to learn the game, or not having been encouraged to do well at it. The Polgar sisters seem to be proof of what can happen when girls are encouraged to do well at the game.
On the other hand, some people argue, there is the possibility that the Polgar sisters merely provide one more piece of evidence for the biological theory. Maybe their father, who is an excellent player, passed on his genes to his daughters.
The success of the sisters suggests that anyone can learn to do well at the game, but the sisters themselves disagree with that. They see their success as a result not just of the educational opportunity they had with such a motivated father, but also as a result of their own hard work.
Sophia, who has always been the weakest of the three, readily acknowledges that she has never been willing to put in as much hard work as her sisters. She is considered an “artistic” chess player, meaning that she tries fancy moves that may prove suddenly successful, or may go down to defeat just as quickly.
As they have grown, two of the sisters have found other interests. Judit, however, continues to play chess internationally. She has been for some time the top-ranked woman in the world, and has been ranked as high as eighth overall player in the world. She has beaten world champion Garry Kasparov, who earlier said that “women by nature are not exceptional chess players.”
It seems like the Polgar sisters might make him – and many other people around the world – want to reconsider their opinions.
What does it mean to say that success is “environmental,” not “biological?”
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